The culmination of Aalto Fellows Program was our study trip to the second biggest startup ecosystem in the world, Israel. The program had started in the spring, continued intensively throughout the summer and now finished with an excellent in-depth view to an environment from where Finland can also learn enormously. We had 10 company visits and besides those met with dozens of other people from local universities and different companies.
There were a few themes that were repeated no matter whom we spoke to. It all derives from the situation the country is in. There are 8 million inhabitants, local markets and trade relations with neighbour countries are not interesting for ambitious young entrepreneurs. Trade culture however is strong and old. It is said that all the Israeli are entrepreneurs and it certainly seems like it over there. The end results of this can be seen in Nasdaq, with over 60 Israeli companies listed there.
These are the five most important themes we learned during the trip:
Challenge the authority: This lesson has again a lot to do with how Israeli people are in general. They have a healthy disrespect towards authorities and they often question the current stand of things. They might also argue whether your suggestion or request makes sense to start with. When it’s something they really want the Israeli are bold and not afraid of hearing no which makes them contact the biggest investors and partners globally whenever they feel it is necessary or beneficial for them. If they go talk to 10 investors and nine say “no”, that one big deal might be still more than enough to keep the company on the growth track. This type of behavior can be described best with the word Chutzpa that we heard many times during our trip.
Responsibility of ones work: This might not be as related to only Israeli startups as much as the previous points but it was one of the inspiring thoughts we heard at Klarna about their values. It means that it’s ok to do mistakes and admit that to your team but at the same time you need to have a strong feeling of accountability and want to fix the problem. If you are passionate and proud about what you do, you should know that the team counts on you to do your part the best way possible. This on the other hand doesn’t mean taking “ownership” of code/features but always prioritizing the overall synergy of the team.
Solve the mission/improvise if necessary: One of the most defining characteristics of Israeli culture in entrepreneurship as well as in all other parts of everyday life is the focus on getting things done. The mentality is objective oriented, and it is usually achieved by improvised measures. Additionally, if something is unachievable or not feasible to achieve, you will fail fast and minimize resources wasted on futile attempts. Failure here is seen as a healthy part of the process. One of the reasons credited behind this objective oriented culture is the mandatory multiple years’ military service that every Israeli person has to complete. The idea that something not perfect but finished is far better than unfinished is lesson truly experienced on a battlefield and can be implemented on fast paced startup life.
Born global –concept: Every startup and VC investor we met agreed on one thing: Israel’s own domestic market is too small. Therefore they need to set for global markets on day one. International expansion is done in an explosive way, simultaneously everywhere with focus on biggest markets such as US. It is funny that such a mentality is nowhere to be found in Finland, considering that we have even smaller domestic market. Maybe there is a lesson somewhere here.
Right people do the right things: Startup is like a bus trip: The trip is successful only if you got the right people on the right bus. Or more simply: It doesn’t matter how many engineers (or any other specialists) you have, it matters that all the engineers do something relevant. The world has changed. New innovations are reducing friction from ordinary life, and once you have experienced frictionless solution, you will never want to go back. Improvement might not be that great, such as Taxi ordering app, but once you have experienced the new solution you will never want to go back to the old. All in all, it was a truly inspirational view to the ecosystem and we certainly now understand better what kind of spirit and drive it takes to grow companies successfully.
Big thanks to the people who made this possible. Marianne & Mikko had planned an amazing program and Petri “Power walk” Parvinen & Olli “Morning Run” Vuola as the initiators of the whole program are to thank for the effort to get us to understand how a small country can become a global player by high-growth entrepreneurship. Next step for us now is to put these learnings into practice.